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“A few years ago 141kW would’ve been plenty of power for the Golf GTi, never mind a car the size of the Polo!”
Not so long ago, the Golf 5 GTi debuted with 147kW, and now, in its seventh iteration it develops 162kW (169kW if you spec the Performance Pack).
Not a huge gain in roughly ten years since the five’s introduction, but then Volkswagen has never chased pure performance glory. The GTi has always been about more than that.
The Polo you see here develops 141kW (9kW increase) and 250Nm from its newly developed 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. Interestingly it wears the same engine number as its older GTi brother – EA888 – displacing 1798cc versus the Golfs 1984cc.
Initially only available with the groups seven-speed automatic DSG transmission with a six-speed manual to be introduced later in 2015. Good news for three-pedal enthusiasts, because you’ll get an extra 70Nm of toque too. 320Nm to be precise.
Volkswagen is quick to point out that the extra torque won’t affect performance. True if you’re your talking straight 0-100km/h times – which by the way the Polo GTi smashes in 6.7 seconds – however, in day-to-day conditions that torque is sure to make a difference, especially for those living at altitude.
Understated is the name of the game
The Polo GTi has had a small makeover in 2015 with a subtly redesigned front bumper. Characteristic GTi signature design elements such as the red pin striping – which now extends into the headlight clusters – and honeycomb grille with the prominent GTi badge, clearly distinguish this hot GTi from lesser models in the range.
Flared wheel arches housing new 17-inch ‘Parabolicca’ alloys wrapped in a wider 215/40 section rubber, extended side sills and a 10mm/15mm front/rear drop in ride height hint at the GTi’s road hugging potential.
While around the back you’ll find the requisite GTi badge, subtle black roof spoiler and chromed dual exhaust tips.
In crisp ‘Pure White’ paintwork and the above-mentioned add-ons, the Polo GTi has a quiet air of sophistication, and while some enthusiasts might prefer a more in-your-face presence, I reckon the balance is spot-on.
Jump inside and you’ll immediately notice the hip-hugging sports seats trimmed in Alcantara with leather inserts – very sporty – as well as the thick-rimmed leather multi-functional steering wheel which has been lifted from the Golf GTi.
Contrasting red stitching on the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake boot as well bespoke floor mats and aluminium trimmed pedals complete the go-faster additions.
The new infotainment system now mimics its older sibling with a 5.8-inch “Composition Media” colour touchscreen-based system. As with most systems, it forms the centre hub for all media activities like, Bluetooth and audio streaming, auxiliary input via USB and SD Card and MP3 functionality etc. The same proximity sensor is included which senses your hand and displays more on-screen info as you approach the touchscreen. Nice!
So, just how hot is this Polo?
In some ways the Polo GTi feels more focused than the Golf GTi – it certainly feels more stiffly sprung – with an out-and-out yearning to be let loose on a racetrack. No doubt the Polo’s smaller wheelbase, in comparison to the Golf’s, translates into a very intense ride quality.
On anything other than silky smooth roads, you feel every bump and ripple in the road, and over severely rutted roads the suspension almost bottoms out, such are the stiff damper settings.
Don’t think this is a complaint though – rather stating a point of fact – because the GTi delivers the exceptional performance required of its hot-hatch nomenclature. Moaning about stiff ride quality is like complaining that your curry has spice in it. You can’t have on without the other.
My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to sit lower than the lowest setting allows for on the driver’s bucket seat.
Is 141kW enough in compact hatch this size? Yes, yes it is. The Polo gathers pace at an alarming rate and while there isn’t a savage ‘shove you into your seat’ kind of power delivery, the Polo GTi keeps on pulling throughout the gears and I have no doubt it’ll hit it’s quoted 236km/h with ease.
Of course, the dual-clutch DSG ‘box is brilliant in lesser models, but when combined with the sort of power we’re talking about here, the DSG comes into its own. Left in ‘D’ it’ll shift into as higher gear as early as possible, relying on the surplus of torque available.
Knock the stubby gear lever down once and you engage ‘Sport’ mode which adds a sense of urgency to gear changes and tightens up any slack left in the steering. It does presume you want to hold every gear to max which can be obtrusive, and will gear down very early under deceleration. In attack mode though, it’s spot on.
Push the DSG lever to the left and you’re in ‘Manual Sport’ mode allowing you to change via the lever or the steering mounted paddles.
Floor the throttle in manual mode and gear shifts are outrageously fast – 2nd to 3rd is particularly savage – with a tendency to almost overwhelm the front wheels. I suspect that the DSG gearbox, in this application, couldn’t handle more than 250Nm which is why the forthcoming manual gets 320Nm.
Volkswagen’s XDS+ is standard on the Polo GTi and operates as an electronic limited-slip differential, using the ABS to brake the inside wheel under hard acceleration in tight corners. It works really well, pulling the Polo cleanly out of hard, tight corners.
In short, the Polo GTi is supremely rapid in a straight line and in the bends, and with the inclusion of DSG, exploiting its capable chassis is just so easy. Too easy maybe. A blast in the manual version come year end will be a necessity.
How’s the standard spec?
As you’d expect from a small hatchback – and one from the VW group – costing R326 400.00, the Polo GTi does come fairly well stocked, but to honest everything else sits on the periphery of the GTi’s core function: going fast.
You get heated front seats, hill-hold assist, driver alert system, cruise control and post-collision braking system, with the option of adding full LED headlight, panoramic sunroof, park distance control, climate control, rear view camera and curtain airbags.
Okay, let’s wrap this up
With its no-nonsense attitude, tremendous power and superb agility the Polo GTi will reward any enthusiast who is looking for a large dose of hoonery, on a tighter budget.
But, at R275 900.00 the Ford Fiesta ST is very hard to beat and is just as focused and as fast. So too is the Renault Clio RS Cup which is the most expensive at R339 900.00. Are they better than the Polo GTi? Well, that certainly is an argument for another day.